It was a friend’s comment on a fairly innocuous Facebook post that stopped me in my tracks. I had shared one of the many humorous cartoons and memes depicting the challenges of parenthood. A friend who had not yet had children commented:
I’ve never seen a person with kids share any information that makes me want to have kids. They all say “blah blah blah, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” where the “blah blah blah” is not only negative but something that sounds completely unworkable. Like “I haven’t slept more than 5 hours for the last 5 years, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” Or, “I’ve never been out anywhere without the kids for more than 2 hours since they were born, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” … Seriously, this is a problem.
His comment took me aback. I love my children, and I love being a parent. But with the dry humor I have been sharing on social media about modern parenting, especially of young children, I’m clearly giving an impression that having children is neither fun nor desirable.
Granted, this humor is also the antidote to the gushy oversharing we parents are wont to do, balancing out the warm, happy smiles we got from our kids after 173 photographs with the daily realities of modern life.
Make no mistake. Parenting is difficult, energy draining, time-consuming, exhausting, and frustrating. There is no reason to hide that reality, and humor is a therapeutic way of dealing with it. It makes the otherwise isolating experience of parenting young children in this era less lonely. But it also can give an impression that having children is not desirable, too difficult, and should always be accompanied by excessive wine drinking or ice cream eating. In my experience, this could not be farther from the truth.
What is true is that I love my children, and I love being a parent to them. Here are a few reasons why.
Children teach me about God. God’s unfathomable, unconditional love became a tiny bit more fahthomable when I held my first tiny baby in my arms and just started to love him, though he had not yet done anything to earn that love other than to be born, fill messy diapers, and cause me immense pain during the first month of nursing. When the size of my heart grew with every new baby, I started to understand how it is possible for God to love the entire world. When it hurt my heart to watch my child cry tears of frustration without stepping in to help him because I knew he had to learn how to do it himself, I could perhaps grasp how God feels all the time, watching us stumble along and make our own mistakes.
Children have made me appreciate my spouse more. I have always loved my husband, but this love grew exponentially the day he became a father and I saw the special tenderness he had two words our children. Fatherhood brought out a side of him that I never saw during our child free days. While those days certainly were much more carefree than they are now, we are more tightly bound together in this life changing experience of raising new human beings.
Children help me see the world through new eyes. When I take time to listen, truly listen to my children’s discussions and observations, I am often surprised and their unique perspectives. I love hearing their observations on our various travels, and even on routine activities, like going to church or shopping. I once asked my daughter what she wanted to give her older brother for Christmas. She said to me, without hesitation, “a firefighter puppet.” I had never heard my older son express the desire for a firefighter puppet, but I went with her intuition and got one for him. It was one of his favorite gifts that Christmas, one he continued to play with many months after. In my professional work I have learned that those perspectives are not just entertaining. Children participating in disaster risk reduction, for example, have been able to point out hazards and vulnerabilities in their communities that the adults have not seen, leading to stronger disaster management policies that help keep more and more people safe. We need our children’s eyes as much as they need ours.
Children can be amazingly kind. One morning I buckled our baby into his car seat and went to my room to get something before leaving. The baby was crying in his seat, but from my room I could hear that he had settled down. When I returned I found my two older children sitting on either side of his car seat, holding a big photo book in front of him and telling him the story behind each picture. Their unprompted kindness towards their new baby brother gave me hope not just for our family, but for humanity. I can recount dozens of stories of kindness and empathy they have shown, not just for our family but for others. Children do fight and do hurt others, but they have an enormous capacity for kindness and empathy when given the opportunity.
Children help me relate better to others. In order to understand my children, I often need to understand how they think and feel, how they communicate, and how they understand me. Successfully raising children requires tons of empathy, flexibility, and patience, skills that serve us well not just in family life but in all aspects of life and all relationships. Empathy, flexibility, and patience can certainly be learned and practiced in other contexts, but with children it is practiced daily, hourly, and sometimes every minute.
Children have taught me how love makes self-sacrifice much easier. Having children requires an enormous amount of self-sacrifice. Love makes it possible to barely register some of these sacrifices, like waking up several times a night to nurse or caring for a sick child. The hours per day that used to be spent on hobbies, enjoying time with friends, or whatever else we did before are now spent helping children with homework, taking children to various doctor’s appointments, and arranging time with friends around play dates and play spaces. Having children requires us to daily “lay down our lives” for others, even when those others don’t or are too young to acknowledge it, let alone appreciate it. And yet the immense love we have for them (see number one) make these sacrifices easier.
Children remind me of God’s gift of life. While my husband and I may have borne our children, it is God who is the author of this miraculous gift of life. Planned or unplanned, expected or unexpected, children are God’s gifts to us. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” Psalm 123 verse 3 says. Remembering this helps me get through the difficult hours. These children are a heavenly gift, and I am thankful for them.
I am not sure if the reasons I love being a parent to my children are the ones that will convince my friend to become a parent or not. I certainly won’t stop sharing the difficult realities of parenting and finding the humor in them – potential parents should know what they are getting into, after all. Raising children will always be challenging, but few challenges in life manage to teach us about God, love, kindness, empathy and thanksgiving on a daily basis.
My friend’s question reminded me to take the time to appreciate my children for who they are and all they have taught me. I have always loved my children. This is the year I will start appreciating them more.